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Smithsonian Honors Art Historian Richard Powell

December 9, 2013

Richard J. Powell (PhD 1988, History of Art), winner of the Fleischman Award, is the John Spencer Bassett Professor of Art, Art History, and Visual Studies at Duke University, where he has taught since 1989. He is also a fellow of Duke’s John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute. Powell specializes in the arts of the African Diaspora, American art, and contemporary visual studies and has written on topics from primitivism to postmodernism. His books include Homecoming: The Art and Life of William H. Johnson, Jacob Lawrence, and Black Art: A Cultural History. His latest book, Cutting a Figure: Fashioning Black Portraiture, explores 19th, 20th, and 21st century portraits of people of African descent in paintings, photographs, graphic arts, and cinema.

Powell served as editor-in-chief of The Art Bulletin from 2007 to 2010. In addition to his scholarly writing, he has helped organize exhibitions that appeared in the Studio Museum in Harlem, Whitney Museum of American Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Art Institute of Chicago, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, London’s Whitechapel Art Gallery, and the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. A new exhibition, Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist, will be on view at the Nasher Museum from January 30 to May 11, 2014. Motley (1891-1981), a master colorist and interpreter of urban culture, is known for his rainbow-hued, syncopated composition. The exhibition includes 45 works from each period of Motley’s long career, depicting modern African American life in Chicago, portraits and archetypes, Jazz Age Paris, and 1950s Mexico. Other exhibitions curated by Powell include Circle Dance: The Art of John T. Scott (2005); Back to Black: Art, Cinema, & the Racial Imaginary (2005); and Conjuring Bearden (2006).

A past recipient of two Ford Foundation Fellowships, Powell has also been awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, numerous Smithsonian Institution fellowships and grants, and more. He has been a Fellow-in-Residence at the National Humanities Center, the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research at Harvard University, as well as a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow in Museum Education at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and an Ednah Root Visiting Curator in American Art at the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco. The Graduate School accorded him its highest honor, the Wilbur Cross Medal, in 2009.